Joyriding—taking or driving someone else's car without permission—is often depicted in film or on television as a youthful rite of passage. But joyriding, also called unauthorized use of a vehicle, is a crime. And a conviction can land you in jail or prison.
The classic example of joyriding is a teenager who takes a parent's car out for the evening without permission. But joyriding can also be committed by strangers or people (such as mechanics or valets) who have access to vehicles for one purpose but use the cars for some other purpose. Regardless of who took the vehicle without permission, it's a crime. Some states also penalize any passengers who ride along knowing the driver doesn't have permission to use the car.
States differ widely on punishments for joyriding. Some states consider joyriding to be the same as theft. In these states, the penalty usually ends up being a felony. Other states penalize joyriding less harshly than theft offenses because the offender's intent was not to take the car permanently, rather only temporarily. These states might impose misdemeanor or low-level felony penalties.
The penalties for joyriding depend on state law (as noted above). But generally, the state law represents only the maximum penalty authorized. The punishment actually imposed by the judge will depend on the circumstances of the crime, the offender's criminal history, and other factors. Here are some of the possibilities.
If you are charged with joyriding or any other criminal offense, you should talk to a local criminal defense attorney. An attorney can explain the law in your state, investigate your case, protect your rights, and help you obtain the best possible outcome.